Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

Hershey. Sixty years ago this Dauphin County commu­nity was a cozy, well-planned company town, replete with its very own amusement park, grand hotel, handsome community building, opulent theater, sports arena, and neat rows of well-kept houses for the factory workers of Chocolate­town, U. S. A. The air hung thick with the delicious aroma of cocoa, making the little town seem an even more improbable location for a museum dedicated to the history and culture of the Native American. But two irrepressible individuals­ – candymaker Milton S. Hershey and Indian artifact collector Col. John G. Worth – joined forces during the grim days of the Great Depression to establish the Hershey Ameri­can Indian Museum in the renovated residence and surgery of Hershey’s cousin, Dr. Martin L. Hershey.

As the Great Depression’s ever-worsening grip on the entire nation tightened, the Central Pennsylvania commu­nity proudly marked its thirtieth anniversary on Sunday, September 3, 1933, with the dedication of the magnificent Hershey Commu­nity Center, erected by the confectioner as an outright gift to the community which bore his name. Townsfolk had only several months before wit­nessed the opening of the sumptuous Hotel Hershey (which the January 1934 edition of Fortune portrayed as “a Pennsylvania-Dutch idea of Moorish magnificence”).

The economic havoc wreaked by the Great Depres­sion offered an opportunity for Milton S. Hershey to construct new buildings and establish new cultural institutions for his small but vibrant model town. The creation of a community center, hotel, and museum marked the begin­ning of a boom which also included the construction of a large open air stadium and closed arena, as well as the establishment of a zoo and botanical garden by the close of the decade. These projects not only enhanced the community’s attractiveness and improved the quality of life but, most importantly, provided employment for residents during a bleak period of great economic uncertainty. It was not too long before the patrician Hershey was to meet the indomitable Worth.

The American Indian Museum was among the first of several cultural projects undertaken by Hershey during the Great Depression. In May 1933, he launched his museum with U1e purchase of an extensive collection of Indian artifacts assembled by Col. John G. Worth, a collector who had spent much of his life in America’s fabled West. By the time the museum opened to the public the following October, the original collection had been augmented with additional objects located and acquired by Colonel Worth. By the end of the decade Hershey had purchased two collections of archaeological materials: the Clarence Erb Collection, containing artifacts found in Dauphin County, and the David Herr Landis Collection of artifacts discov­ered in adjacent Lancaster County.

Within a year of its open­ing, a promotional piece describing the museum, “American Indian Museum Attracts People From Many States,” appeared in the July 28, 1934, edition of Hotel Hershey High-Lights.

A spot of particular interest to the visitor in Hershey is the American Indian Museum devoted to the Indians west of the Mississippi River and the Red Men of British Columbia and the far North. Thanks to the philan­thropy of Milton S. Hershey, the treasures of the collection are a free exhibit to the public …. The collection includes totem poles, ceremonial robes and aprons, rugs, blankets, pipes, objects of peace and war, and baskets; everything that is needed to visualize the daily life of the Indian and his aspirations. The museum is open from nine in the morning to five in the afternoon.

The Indian Museum is housed in a building that is two hundred years old, one of those limestone buildings familiar to all who have traveled in the Lebanon Valley. It is situated on a knoll, at the north end of Hershey Park, and is surrounded by trees. One does not need to read the sign with its arrow pointing: “Indian Mu­seum” to know what the building contains because there are three totem poles from the far North placed on its hilly entrance.

The Indian collection, which occupies the space of the two story building, was made by Col. J. G. Worth who in his wandering of thirty years with the Indians of the Plains, gathered the collection together.

Born January 4, 1872, in New York City, John Gerry Worth was neither trained ethnographer nor scholar. He was, however, well acquainted with life in the American West. Perhaps the best description of Worth’s experiences is his own summary contained in a letter dated June 24, 1898, to the Adjutant General of the U.S. Army following the outbreak of the Spanish-American War.

Have lived in the Rocky Mountain states nearly 20 years, during this time I have had charge, owned and managed freight trains, cattle and horse ranches, pack trains … and extensive mining interests, sometimes working over 200 men embracing a territory of 30 or more miles. Have been on Indian campaigns in Arizona and Dakota. Also understand Indian scouting. Am well aquainted with finding proper camp quarters, providing wood and water, making provisions for cooking, feeding a large number of men. Forage for horses and cattle and the transportation of same, also the amount of work horses will stand in warm countries. Packing and transportation in the field. Have the ability to take care of myself and men under all conditions and understand the necessities for their health arid comfort in camp, p11re water, drainage, wind breaks, healthy, ground for long or short stay etc.

I have never served as a soldier, but having lived near frontier posts nearly all my life haven general understanding of military duties and conditions. As the government is about to transport a large number of men to conditions and surroundings entirely new to them, they will need every possible care and instruction in many ways to take care of themselves, especially in Cuba and the Philippines.

… I understand mines and mining machinery and their practical management, also railway building but never had technical training enough to qualify as an engineer officer. My extensive practical experience may be of use in the Corps of Engineers as well but will go in any branch of the army where I can be of use.

A photograph taken January 16, 1891, offers an intriguing glimpse of Worth’s early life in the West. Taken in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, one day after the surrender that followed the Battle of Wounded Knee, the photo­graph shows the flamboyantly-dressed Worth with Sioux leaders Kicking Bear and Short Bull, U. S. Army officials, and van­quished leaders of the pan-Indian Ghost Dance Movement. Standing promi­nently in the center of the back row is William Frederick Cody (1846-1917), better known as “Buffalo Bill,” originator of the world-famous Wild West Show. Worth’s appearance in a publicity photograph is indicative of his experience in “Indian campaigns and scouting,” which he described in his letter to the army’s Adjutant General seven years later. His familiarity with scouting and “military duties and conditions” indicates that he may have served as a civilian scout for the military command responsible for the last of the Indian Wars.

Despite his varied military experiences and success in establishing himself as a mining engineer, Worth’s effort to secure a commission in the Army during the Spanish-American War proved fruitless. In fact, he had written to the Adjutant General only weeks before Spain sued for peace on July 30, 1898. Two decades later, however, on April 10, 1917 – just four days after the United States’ entry into World War I – Worth applied for and received a commission as captain in the Quartermaster Officers Reserve Corps. Following discharge from military service in 1918, Worth reestablished himself as a mining engineer in the City of Philadelphia. It was not until 1925 that he first wrote Milton S. Hershey about the possibil­ity of “a Museum idea in your place,” proposing to secure “buckskin beaded work, Indian pipes, war clubs and some pottery, pre-historic and recent, also Navajo Indian rugs and silver work.”

Hershey declined, and the dauntless Worth contacted at least two other prospective buyers, including Thomas L. Gates, president of the University of Pennsylvania, and Jesse L. Nusbaum, director of the Laboratory of Anthro­pology in Santa Fe. In a 1932 letter Nusbaum advised Worth that the New Mexico labora­tory was particularly reluctant to turn down Worth’s basket collection, but lacked the funds to purchase it.

Exactly how the collector and the candymaker first met Milton Hershey was known to occasionally visit the Tea House and apparently saw Worth’s displays. Worth wrote Hershey on May 29, 1933, to again try to interest him in building a museum collection. A letter dated only two days later informed Worth that a Hershey employee – with “a truck in which to move the equipment” – would arrive at his house on Friday, June 2. The initial shipment consisted of approximately two hundred and fifty artifacts and cost five thousand dollars.

The speed with which Hershey accepted Worth’s second proposal was due, ironically, to the Great Depression and the building program it spawned in the nation’s chocolate capital. Worth presented Hershey with the opportunity to instantly acquire a museum-quality collection – most likely at some discount – for his growing model town. Worth’s knowl­edge of Native American material also offered Hershey the opportunity to purchase additional objects for the collection as needed. Because of the availability of Dr. Hershey’s residence, finding suitable space in which to house the museum did not interfere with the ambitious building schedule already in place and insured that the museum could be opened to the public in a matter of months – in time for the community’s thirtieth anniver­sary celebration.

The nucleus of the new American Indian Museum was Worth’s own collection of one hundred and fifty baskets that he had assembled over many years. Other late nineteenth century pieces which found their way into the museum may also have been collected during Worth’s earlier days in the West, including a deli­cately painted depiction of the Ghost Dance and the porcu­pine-quill and buffalo skin outfit representing the Sioux leader Kicking Bear whom Worth had met. Worth hunted other pieces in curio shops and trading posts, and often dispatched brief missives as prize pieces were acquired.

Last night I shipped you a Ute Papoose Carrier in a Navajo Indian Traders store at Gallup, N.M. I often offered him $50.00 for it. I heard he had passed away, wrote to his successors about it and bought it for 20.00 plus 3.00 expenses.

While pieces such as the Ute baby carrier had been gathering dust in a store for more than thirty years, the five totem poles that Worth secured for the museum were probably new, made to order, in 1933. Many of the items that Worth purchased for Hershey had changed hands several times, but Indian artifacts could still be obtained at modest prices, another circumstance of the Great Depression.

Judging by the rapidity with which objects began to fill the museum, Milton Hershey must have been an enthusiastic supporter during its early days. His sponsorship of the museum may be partially explained by his interest in the Carlisle Indian School across the Susquehanna River in Cumberland County. A child of a Carlisle Indian School student remembers his family speaking of Hershey inviting students to his house and providing the school with com for special festivals. Accession records for the museum document that Hershey donated a jacket from the Carlisle Indian School to the collections. Indeed, much of the philosophy of Hershey’s own Industrial School (for orphaned white boys) parallels that of the Indian School.

Milton S. Hershey’s role in the formation of the Indian Museum was primarily financial, but his enthusiasm is revealed through some specific, yet naive, requests: he asked Worth to secure a “cigar-store Indian” for the museum and Indians to “play” in front of the museum. Hershey’s enthusiasm surprised even Worth when he decided to purchase au extremely large and expensive Navajo rug which Worth had sent to the museum only as a loan.

Hershey’s support of the museum and its collection flagged, however, once the museum opened to the public. When he realized, as early as 1933, that Hershey no longer intended to respond to him directly, Worth began to address his correspondence to 01arles F. Ziegler, general manager of Hershey Estates. Nevertheless, acquisition funds, much like Hershey’s initial enthusiasm, began to disappear. On July 24, 1933, Ziegler notified Worth that “Mr. Hershey is unwilling to invest any more cash in this project until next year.” By the end of the following year, Worth even found it difficult to be reimbursed for small purchases he made on behalf of the museum. In a letter to Ziegler dated January 15, 1935, a frustrated Worth made an appeal for payment.

If you can conveniently do so, I wish you would clear the last lot I brought over, and get it out of the way and another reason is that I am in need of the money.

In November you said that small lots did not matter, I have to pay cash for it all and to have it held for a second approval makes it rather hard on me. My sole objective is to help build up the Museum and get what I thought was most needed, reaching out for thousands of miles to all points of the compass.

As time passed, Hershey grew increasingly reluctant to purchase expensive Indian artifacts for the museum’s collection. In one instance Worth offered to sell him a particularly large and valuable Apache basket then on loan from his own collection. When Hershey refused, Worth sold it for five hundred dollars to the famous restauranteur and avid collector, Fred Harvey.

From the very beginning of his association with the American Indian Museum, Worth expressed his desire to be named its director. Al­though nothing ever came of his requests – day-to-day operation of the museum was entrusted to Richard Light and a night watchman who lived on the second floor – Worth’s lack of official status did not stop him from constantly making observations and recommendations about the museum’s condition. In a letter dated December 14, 1933, Worth addressed the museum’s environmental problems.

Please be advised to make the cases absolutely dust and moth proof, these two are the great contentions of all museums and if allowed to prevail will destroy everything. You have the coal dust from the trains to contend with at all times especially when the windows are open. Everything should be under glass. Unfortu­nately, the new cases you have made are not dust or moth proof, which should receive your attention.

In a letter of July 5, 1934, he again called attention to several environmental problems and decried the poor condition and faulty place­ment of specific artifacts.

The large Navajo blanket in the case on the first floor should be cleaned ….. I have recommended that this blanket be cleaned ever since it was installed, but nothing has been done about it …. Several blankets are in the cases that should be on the floor. They will improve with wear and moths will not make headway while they are being used …. The museum may be open to more or less criticism because much of the material is not properly placed and coordi­nated and the cases not placed to the best advantage. I offered to correct this, but we have never gotten it.

On September 18, 1934, Worth referred to what he called the “jumbled appear­ance” of the exhibits. He specifically noted that the exhibits lacked organization and were not “classified properly as to tribe and geographical location.” And again on March 14, 1935, Worth sharply criticized the condition of the museum.

I spent a few minutes at the museum, it looked very sad, material misplaced, no co­ordination, very junky. Alaska is mixed with the Southwest and the Plains with the Desert material. The whole place seemed out of gear.

At the outset of his associa­tion with Hershey, Worth had offered to set up the museum at no additional charge. He and his wife did travel to Hershey in 1935 to redesign and reinstall existing exhibits. After the revisions were completed, Worth apparently believed that the enormity of the task justified payment. On January 22, 1936, he appealed to Charles Ziegler.

I have not heard from you regarding the last payment of $200.00 …. The amount involved as far as I am concerned, is so small compared to the time and attention given to make a good job of it and the sacrifice we made in giving up nearly six month’s of time that should have been given in other directions, I do not see how it could be questioned.

Ziegler offered to take up the matter of Worth’s compen­sation with Milton Hershey himself, but the fee was never paid, ,even though Worth continued to plead his case in several subsequent letters. At least Worth could take comfort in knowing the reorganized museum imparted a sense of order and uniqueness. Under Worth’s direction, artifacts from the Northwest coast and Alaska were grouped together on the left side of the first floor and objects from the Eastern Woodlands on the right. The second floor was devoted to the material culture of both the Plains and Southwest. Because of Worth’s devotion and perseverance, the Indian Museum quickly became an integral cultural resource for the community of Hershey. Always proud of his achieve­ment, Worth treasured an accolade from a friend, which he recounted in a letter to Ziegler on January 30, 1936.

Did you ever think of the museum as a painting? A friend of mine wrote that he entered the building expecting to be in the ordinary museum with objects cased and labeled. Instead he wrote, “We found ourselves in the center and part of a great painting, the figures called to us from the past, they seemed alive …. We were in a great cyloramic perspective, surrounded by the colorful and romantic inhabitants of early America.” It is a painting that cannot be reproduced as no two pieces the Indian makes or has made is alike.

Less than two years before his death, the ailing Colonel Worth wrote to officials of the Indian Museum on July 19, 1939, not to once again chide them for their lack of care for the collections, but simply to share his love for the American West and his dedication to the preservation of its heritage for succeeding generations.

I have carried that heart trouble over five years which lets me down more with the years and now for about a year, the old man’s prostate trouble has overtaken me.

…. it is wonderful country for contrasts, I have lived and worked in all parts of it since a boy and very homesick not only for California, but also for all of the Southwest which means so much to me, I know every mountain hill and stream but also the life and culture of the Indians, the meaning of their handicraft and history for hundreds of years. Its all part of me and to be torn away from it seems like the separation of the soul.

Old “Kicking Bear” I put in the case, he is in the picture with Buffalo Bill and myself with other Indians taken after tire “Ghost Dance War” over 40 years ago. I wonder if you ever knew this ….

The Chemehuevi basket bowl I presented to the Museum, tho not so beautiful as some others, is rare and took 25 years to find, of course this means nothing but to the collector. I am glad it was found and installed.

He could not resist express­ing his fear that “all of this will be thrown into the discard with the development of the new museum.” In 1935, perhaps encouraged by the success of the Indian Museum, Milton Hershey had purchased a large collection of objects from the estate of Manheim, Lancaster County, resident and merchant George H. Danner (1834-1917), an avid antiques collector (see “George H. Danner: The Retailer and His Relic Rooms” by Jonathan P. Cox in the summer 1987 edition of Pennsylvania Heritage). Danner’s collection included several thousand “everyday” objects used predominantly by Pennsylva­nia German residents of Lancaster County during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is little wonder that Worth worried about the fate of his beloved Indian collection; for the Danner collection, Milton S. Hershey had offered fifty thousand dollars to the estate executors!

John G. Worth, the driving force behind the creation of the Hershey American Indian Museum, died on May 20, 1941, at the age of seventy. An obituary notice failed to mention his association with the Indian Museum, but did note that for “the past 20 years … Colonel Worth had lived in retirement…compiling collections of Indian baskets and other objects and writing the history of basketry. In his 40 years of life in the West, he had associated with scouts and hunters and had been a friend of ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody.” He did not live to see the growth of the Hershey Museum or the development and professionalization of the museum community.

Colonel Worth might be surprised to know that the present-day Hershey Museum occupies a building originally built as a convention center in 1915, a much larger structure than the residence which housed the original Indian Museum. He might be secretly pleased to know, however, that the original Indian collection – although now a rather small part of the museum – survives with its integrity intact. In fact, these artifacts are exhibited in one wing. More importantly, the collection remains divided, as Worth had intended, by geographical areas: Eastern Woodlands, Southwest, Great Plains, Northwest Coast, and Alaska. Although augmented by donations and purchases through the years, the heart of the collection remains those pieces originally assembled by Worth. Through his persis­tence and knowledge, the museum has been blessed with many choice objects, including a Washoe burden basket made by Dat So La Lee, a Chilkat blanket of dyed mountain goat wool, two intricately carved raven rattles from the North­west Coast, miniature Pomo baskets, a Navajo silver bridle, and an Inuit eider-down parka.

Colonel Worth would be justifiably proud to learn that the Native American collection of the Hershey Museum remains an important resource for the Central Pennsylvania community. Of the nearly twenty thousand school children who visit the museum annually, thirty-four percent attend specifically to tour the Indian exhibits. In addition, the museum’s Native Ameri­can collection is shared with at least an additional seven thousand students each year through a school outreach program. The Hershey Museum also uses the Indian collections for educating the general public through adult and family classes, lectures, and special activities. In 1990, the museum commemorated the Columbus Quincentenary with a series of programs on Native Americans, which included a special exhibition on contemporary Hopi life, a lecture series by a Hopi crafts­man, a teacher’s workshop, and a film and lecture series.

The Hershey Museum acknowledges its commitment to the original Indian Museum collection, expressing in both its mission statement and long range plan a desire “to be an outstanding history museum in South Central Pennsylvania for the understanding of the lives and culture of native North American peoples.” The museum plans to continue acquiring contemporary objects to close the gaps in its present collection. It also hopes to engage guest curators to assist with reinstallation of permanent exhibits and to help with the specific tribal identifi­cations and dates of some of the objects. (This information, which was undoubtedly known to Worth, was not recorded by Hershey’s staff when objects and artifacts arrived at the museum.)

In the next five years, the Hershey Museum will reevalu­ate its collection in light of the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act, signed into law in late 1990. This law requires the museum to furnish a list of pieces made by Native Americans to current members of the tribes that produced them. Sacred and funerary objects, human remains, and objects which once belonged to tribal groups, rather than to individuals, are eligible to be reclaimed. Museum staff members are hopeful that the Repatriation Act will place the museum into contact with Native Americans, and that this relationship will ulti­mately help carry out Worth’s original intention; to foster an understanding and apprecia­tion of North America’s native peoples.

Col. John Gerry Worth would have welcomed such an opportunity.


For Further Reading

Castner, Charles Schuyler. One Of A Kind: Milton Snavely Hershey, 1857-1945. Hershey, Pa.: The Derry Literary Guild, 1983.

Cox, Jonathan P. “George H. Danner: The Retailer and His Relic Rooms.” Pennsylvania Heritage. 13, 3 (Summer 1987).

Goetzmann, William H. The First Americans: Photographs From the Library of Congress. Washington: Sherwood Publish­ing, Inc., 1991.
Jensen, Richard E., et al. Eyewitness at Wounded Knee. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991.

Kopper, Philip. The Smithsonian Book of North American Indians Before the Coming of the Europeans. Washington: Smithsonian Books, 1986.

Morton, Marcia, and Frederick Morton. Chocolate: An Illustrated History. New York: Crown Publishing, Inc., 1986.

Shippen, Katherine B., and Paul A. W. Wallace. Milton S. Hershey. New York: Random House, 1959.

Snavely, Richard Joseph. An Intimate Story of Milton S. Hershey. Hershey, Pa.: N. P., 1957.

____. Milton S. Hershey, Builder. Hershey, Pa.: N. P., 1934.

____. The Hershey Story. Hershey, Pa.: N. P., 1950.

Yost, Nellie Irene. Buffalo Bill: His Family, Friends, Fame, Failures, and Fortunes. Chicago: Swallow Press, 1979.


Lois Miklas Hartmann is associate curator of education for the Hershey Museum. She received her bachelor of arts degree from Vanderbilt Univer­sity and her master of arts degree from the University of Illinois.


James D. McMahon, Jr., is curator of collections for the Hershey Museum. He received his bachelor of arts degree from Franklin and Marshall College and his master of arts degree from The Pennsylvania State Univer­sity at Harrisburg. His articles on Pennsylvania German material culture have appeared in Pennsylvania Folklife.